“You enter the dark, dank dungeon. A heavy scent of must and mildew bombards your senses. Off in the darkness you hear the scurrying footfalls of vermin retreating from the glow of your torch. Also in this darkness you hear something else, something much larger than a rat. As you step forward, braving this dark world of unknown dangers, a loud battle cry sounds forth. From the darkness now emerges three beastmen. Their jowls drip froth and their knuckles drag as they beat down upon you. Behind them swoop down giant bats while skeletal archers unleash a volley of arrows towards you… and if that was not enough spiders crawl out from the walls, poison dripping from their fangs… oh, and of course a giant now lumbers into sight… what will your small band of puny adventurers do in light of this danger? You will decide! This is the world of Descent!”
Hi everybody! “Hi Dr. Nick!”
I hope that little intro to my review was bone chilling and has gotten everyone reading this in the mood for a good ol’ dungeon crawl. Now, before I begin let me just get this out of the way first. Veterans of the board gaming field may have looked upon this game and exclaimed with a bewildered cry of dismay “WHAT HAVE THEY DONE TO HERO QUEST!?” Now, don’t get me wrong, Hero Quest is a fantastic game in it’s own right but this is a whole other beast. Yes they share a lot of similarities, but in the end I believe that players will walk away from both games with different experiences.
Now for the fun!
From the moment I set eyes on this board game laid out before me I was hooked. From the smooth glossy modular tiles that make up the dungeon floor to the enormous pile of fairly well detailed molded plastic figures, I was in love.
The dungeon tiles come in a few different sizes and are broken up into squares that will determine player and monster movement. These tiles themselves are cut up into jigsaw-puzzle-like pieces and fit together to form one fluid dungeon map. The artwork detailing these tiles is nothing mind blowing. It seems to be a generic stamping of the one design on each. Although it is possible slight differences from tile to tile could be found, but on the whole it all blurs into the same pattern. It does succeed in setting the atmosphere and mood however, while providing boundaries to your game world. The fact that the tiles are modular is a huge bonus in that when you finish the nine pre-made adventures provided you can simply create your own. No need to replay the same dungeons if you do not desire to.
The character design of the game is well conceived and detailed. Twenty hero characters are provided each with a decently defined plastic model and a character card that bears a matching artistic image to the model with hero statistics. The artwork itself I found to be well done and compelling. You can almost instantly get a sense of what each character is by simply looking over the image of the hero character. The heroes themselves each have strengths and weaknesses. Some are magic-users, others are warriors, then you have a few thief-like and ranger-like characters. The only thing I feel was really missing from them was an actual backstory for each hero, like they had done for Arkham Horror.
The monster figures are, in my opinion, well done. Even the smallest monster seems to tower over even the largest hero. They all strike an imposing figure and it can safely be said that nobody would want to run into any of them alone in the dark. My only complaint is the lack of variety of monster at the disposal of the Overlord. But maybe my expectations were a little high in that regard. To be fair, the eight or so creature types available is a nice assortment. However, you really seem to only encounter Beastmen and Giant Spiders on a regular basis. Again though, this is only from one play through of the first dungeon. I can only imagine it will be drastically different the further you progress. Even then I am sure expansions will contain new monsters to either devour or be slain by the heroes. In a nice twist though, each monster has two types. The regular monsters and master monsters. The masters are coloured red instead of the usual beige. This makes them slightly more dangerous then the average beast.
To spice up the game board counters are provided. These counters make up doors, fallen pillars, and other debris. Chests can also be found, these will contain treasures and items. The REAL reasons to be a Hero. We all say we are in it to save the world or a beautiful princess, yet in the end if we don’t gold and toys, then the world be damned! Sorry toots! 😉 The art work for these counters is also nothing completely amazing, but it is good enough to maintain the mood of the game and interpret the counter as whatever role it is playing.
Also included is a variety of cards. These cards are mostly used by the Overlord player to thwart, maim, or even kill the players. Although some cards will be gained by the heroes as treasure, skills, and spells.
I took my first steps into this dungeon expecting a nice slow adventure game filled with exploration and adventure. What I got was a vastly different result. Within moments we were swarmed by Beastmen and Skeleton Archers. The action was fast. While monsters are dangerous, for the most part they can’t take much damage. Exceptions are the master monsters and “named” monsters — the bosses of a given dungeon — they can take slightly more damage. (They also hit harder too, much harder). What also makes this game slightly more unique, and by that I obviously mean more deadly, is that the Overlord is not simply using the monsters he is given to defeat the heroes. The Overlord himself can directly influence what is going on by the use of his personal card deck and threat.
Even when the Overlord has no monsters in play he is capable of laying traps or summoning in new beasts. He acquires threat every turn, the threat he gains is equal to how many heroes enter his dungeon. He then has cards that will have a threat cost, which he must spend in order to activate the card and unleash it’s abilities. So as I had begun, the Beastmen and Skeleton Archers had jumped forth to do battle. As the tide of battle turned in our favour, suddenly as if from nowhere Giant bats swooped down from the darkness to join the fray (Having been summoned by our dastardly Overlord of the evening, Carl). Dealing with them was no problem, but it set the tone for further battles within that would not unfold so easily.
After this first battle we were rewarded with a few treasures and we continued merrily on our way. Proceeding through the next door led us into another brawl. This brawl was more dangerous as we were subsequently bombarded with fire while having venomous spiders inject us with their… well… venom. Also (once again thank you to Carl) we had to avoid weakened floors and pit traps. Even opening the next door was not safe as the Overlord had fixed a trap to it causing it to explode and shower us with splinters. A huge bonus for the heroes is that during the adventure a return to town is possible when finding certain runes and activating them. Here you can spend found gold for new items and healing. Although the more time you spend in town, the more time the evil Overlord has to plot and summon new beasts… be warned.
Eventually we encountered the final named creature of the dungeon. He was a giant. His sheer size alone would ensure no adventurer leaves with unsoiled breeches. We knew it would be no easy feat to topple the behemoth before us (especially since Overlord Carl kept summoning new beasts during the battle…) but we gave it our all, and so we died. thankfully we had acquired plenty of conquest points and made a swift return to the dungeon where we finally slaughtered the savage creatures and won the day! Hooray!
The goals of these encounters is outlined before the first die is rolled. A brief “mission” outline is read by the Overlord to the players. Another goal, which in turn doubles as a point keeping system, are conquest points. These are counters gained by meeting certain objectives within the dungeon (ie: activating a rune back to town). The heroes start with a couple of these already and it is the Overlords goal to acquire these from the heroes by killing them. When a hero dies she has a conquest point value which the Overlord gains. As long as the heroes can pay this value, they will then resurrect back in town and be able to continue the adventure.
The game has what I can only describe as a flow, or even a slowly building momentum. This momentum will go from the players to the Overlord, everyone will have their moment to shine and do some good. Even though it is simply a board game it can at times play like a fast paced arcade game where you must survive wave after wave of nasty beasts, only to face the nastiest of them all at the end. I entered the dark halls of this dungeon with high hopes, and I was not disappointed by what I found within.
I highly encourage anyone that has even the slightest interest in this game to give it a try. If you’re lucky maybe your local hobby store will have a demo version to try. I know the cost can seem steep, approximately $90 – $100 for the basic game and then another $50 – $60 per expansion, it will bust the bank of many a gamer. Especially those with a tight budget. However, the fun that will be had while triumphing over monsters and heroes alike with friends and family is, in this gamers mind, well worth the investment.